13 die in Calabar tank farm fire ••
Ibadan traders weep as inferno guts N500m goods
About 13 were feared dead, several others sustained various degrees of injuries while a fish market at Esuk Utan in Calabar, Cross River State caught fire when a tank farm, located at the Calabar Free Zone Enterprise, caught fire yesterday morning.
This came as fire yesterday destroyed 32 shops with goods worth N500 million located at St. James Church Cathedral Shopping Complex, Agbokojo Road, Ogunpa, Ibadan, Oyo State. A witness, who gave his name simply as Effiong, said those who sustained injuries were taken to the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital while the dead were evacuated to mortuaries in the city.
He said the fire was caused by illegal activities in one of the tank farms. Effiong explained that a vessel was supplying Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known as petrol, to two of the tank farms located at Esuk Utan about 2a.m. He said: “The ship, which was on the river nearby, was supplying the product through pipes that passed through the premises of both tank farms.
The distance between the ship and the tank farm is about a kilometre. “While supply was going on, an employee of one of the farms, identified as Sunny, who was not on duty that night, opened the pipes inside their premises to siphon petrol.” Another witness, who did not want to give his name, said the activities of those siphoning petrol from ships were a regular thing in the area. The witness said Sunny was working with others when he was knocked down and he died on the spot.
He said: “I don’t know what knocked him down, but the petrol filled the premises and flowed through gutters back into the river and into the Esuk Utan community, the host community. This was about 4a.m. Due to the strong smell of the PMS, some members of the community woke up to realise that petrol was flowing through their gutters and decided to scoop the product. “At this point, there must have been a spark which set off the fire. At least, six of them died on the spot. The fire followed the petrol through the gutters back to the vessel that supplied it but the men on board managed to stop the fire from engulfing the vessel, using sophisticated fire-fighting equipment.”
However, a fishing settlement on the waterfront nearby was not so lucky. The settlement, which also serves as a fish market, was razed. Seven people, who lived in the settlement, lost their lives. Many wooden canoes and engine boats were caught in the inferno. Another witness said three vessels in the adjoining Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) were also affected by the fire, but the tank farm, from where the problem started, was saved because modern fire-fighting equipment were used to check the fire.
A man, who claimed to be an employee of the tank farm, said: “Almost 30 people that we have been able to confirm have died. So many have severe injuries and were rushed to the hospital. “I saw someone whose entire legs were burnt in the fire. It was only his bones that were sticking out.
I do not know if he would survive. It was very horrible.” But the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hafiz Inuwa, said the police could only confirm seven deaths and nine injured. He said his men were on ground when the fire was raging and helped put out the fire as well as cordoned the area so that hoodlums would not take advantage of the situation to loot.
The Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Itaya Nyong, who was at the scene of the incident, confirmed that the fire was as a result of the activities of criminal elements who were siphoning petrol from the tank farm. The Ibadan fire, it was learnt, started from one of the shops in the one-storey shopping complex about 2a.m. allegedly from an electrical spark.
Among the affected structures were shops, offices and warehouses stocked with agricultural produce, chemicals, sprayers, provisions, building materials, mobile phones and accessories, shoe materials, hair extensions (popularly referred to as weave-on) and plywood. Sources said a security guard and some residents noticed smoke on the roof of the shops and attempted to put out the fire but when they realised that it was beyond them, they informed the Fire Service station at Molete, Ibadan. Intervention, however, did not come on time, leading to the losses incurred by the shop owners.
The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Olalekan Alli, and the Special Adviser to Governor Abiola Ajimobi on Security Matter, Segun Bolarinwa, visited the scene yesterday afternoon to ascertain the level of destruction. Two of the traders, Okafor Michael and Omotoso Sulaimon, said they had resigned to fate because they did not know how to recover from the losses they had incurred.
Okafor, the Chief Executive Officer of Divine Love Ventures who trades in several brands of hair extension (weave-on), said he incurred about N90 million loss in the four warehouses in the market. He said: “My brother, this is where we are. There is nothing we can do but it is so demoralising with the poor state of the Nigerian economy. I received a phone call about 4a.m. that our shops were on fire. On getting here, there was no way to enter.” Sulaimon, who sells shoe materials, said he also had four shops which were burnt.
He said lost more than N6 million goods. The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Adekunle Ajisebutu, said that no life was lost in the incident. Ajisebutu said the Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Odude, had visited the scene and that men of the state police command had been deployed in the area to provide security. He said: “Following the report about the unfortunate inferno, Fire Service was contacted. Police patrol teams were drafted to the scene to maintain law and order, and protect lives and property.
The policemen ensured that hoodlums didn’t take undue advantage of the incident to steal property of innocent people. However, no life was lost in the fire incident. The state Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Odude, also personally visited the scene.”